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Derry Timberwolves work it hard to be in shape

Special to the Union Leader

June 08. 2017 12:56AM
Members of the Timberwolves are put through their paces as part of their training to keep fit and prepare to compete in Special Oympics events. (KATHLEEN BAILEY)

DERRY — Nicole Ferrante, recreation coordinator for the Town of Derry, sat on the floor of the Veterans Hall gym with a group of adults of various ages. Members of the Derry Timberwolves sports teams listened as Ferrante outlined the protocol for an upcoming track meet. “Don’t forget your sunscreen, bug spray and water,” she said, “and dress in layers. Wear sweatpants or shorts.”

“Why can’t we wear jeans?” one young man wondered, to which Ferrante responded, “Jeans are not athletic gear, and you are an athlete.”

It’s something Ferrante and Timberwolves Coach Joe Crawford Sr. remind their 20 to 30 members each week, when the Timberwolves, an adult Special Olympics team, meet for conditioning or practice in their individual sports. The Timberwolves, sponsored by Derry Parks and Recreation, gives special needs adults a place to belong, while also keeping them fit.

On a Wednesday afternoon, Crawford led about a dozen athletes through their paces, beginning with a brisk walk around the gym. The members, one in a wheelchair, made the trek with little effort. Then the real work began, with Crawford leading them in an exercise of “side-stepping” across the gym and back. Many athletes wore their Derry Timberwolves attire, either royal blue T-shirts with a golden paw or gray shirts with a wolf’s head on the front.

Ferrante arrived, fresh from running a senior citizen luncheon, and immediately got the group skipping. Then she and Crawford instructed them in a new exercise, taking giant steps with alternating arms stretched out. “There you go, Tim, you got it,” Ferrante encouraged one young man.

A supporter called to Timberwolf Virginia Fallabella, “Good job!” to which Fallabella replied, “OK, hotshot!”

Next, Crawford told the members to cross the gym. “Go slowly, don’t run,” he said. “I want to see the arm action.”

“It’s like cross-country skiing,” Ferrante encouraged them. She demonstraed the opposite-arm, opposite-leg action. She and Crawford took small groups, four at a time, to work on the technique, while the remainder were instructed to do wall push-ups.

The exercise got done, to good-natured banter among the athletes and from the friends and relatives on the sidelines.

After a cool-down walk, the athletes congregated in small conversational groups, until Ferrante called them to join her on the floor. As she gave the instructions for the regional meet that Saturday, she also led them in cool-down stretches.

The Timberwolves predate Ferrante’s tenure with Rec and some of the athletes she works with. The program has been in Derry well over 25 years, she said.

Carol Madden, a former Town of Derry employee, saw a need for an athletic program for adults who had outgrown the children and teen Special Olympics. Madden was an aquatics instructor, and the program began with swimming and expanded. “She was a volunteer and an advocate,” Ferrante said. “We follow her legacy.”

The program is open to adults 21 and older, with the oldest Timberwolf on record being in their 70s. They currently have about 30 people, including volunteers, Ferrante said.

Cory Remillard of Derry has been in the program about five years. He competes in basketball, track and bowling, he said.

His father John, who watched the practice, said Cory has been in Special Olympics since he was 10. They lived near West Point, N.Y., when Cory was small, and that community had an “awesome program,” John Remillard said.

When Cory finished high school, he faced losing his athletic outlets, Remillard said. But the family found the Timberwolves, and Cory found his team. “It is a blessing,” his father said, noting that while Cory also lifts weights, that doesn’t provide a lot of social interaction. “At Timberwolves he has friends,” the senior Remillard said.

To enroll an athlete, volunteer or make a financial donation, call Parks and Rec at 432-6136.

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